A Charlottesville-area man was convicted in the high-profile killings of two Va. college students Wednesday as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that spared him the possibility of facing the death penalty.
Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., 33, entered guilty pleas in Albemarle County court for the 2014 slaying of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham and the 2009 killing of Virginia Tech junior Morgan Harrington. He was sentenced to four life terms.
Matthew, who was charged with the disappearances and deaths of the two young women, faced the possibility of being sentenced to death if he was found guilty at trial in the slaying of Graham, 18, of Fairfax County.
After Judge Cheryl Higgins accepted the guilty pleas from Matthew, Sue Graham, Hannah Graham’s mother, read a statement to the court.
“Her friends said that she would change the world, and she did, but at a terrible price,” Graham said, noting that her daughter helped police arrest “a serial rapist and murderer hiding in plain sight. She is a heroine.”
In addition to the first-degree murder charges, Matthew pleaded guilty to abduction and intent to defile charges in both cases. The capital murder charge he was facing in Graham’s case was dropped by prosecutors as part of the deal.
Matthew did not speak in court at length, but his attorney, Douglas Ramseur, read a statement from his client.
“He’s very sorry for what happened,” Ramseur said. “He loves his family very much.”
Ramseur said Matthew agreed to the plea deal in order “to not have the sentence of death hanging over his head.”
Matthew was arrested in Graham’s case in September 2014 weeks after she went missing following a night out with friends in downtown Charlottesville. Her disappearance sparked a massive search and her body was later found on an abandoned property outside the college town.
After Matthew’s arrest, he was linked through a DNA test to a cold case that bore striking similarities to the Graham disappearance — the slaying of Harrington, 20. Harrington had vanished in Oct. 2009 after a Metallica concert in Charlottesville and her body was found months later in an Albemarle County pasture. Matthew was indicted in Harrington’s death about a year after he was charged with Graham’s slaying.
Source: Washington Post | T. Rees Shapiro and Justin Jouvenal